Student Well-Being

5 Social-Emotional Skills Kids Need to Lead Healthy Digital Lives

By Arianna Prothero — April 19, 2022 2 min read
Image of a person using technology.
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The pandemic supercharged the amount of time kids spent learning and having fun online and on digital devices. It has also led to a surge of interest and investment in social-emotional learning in schools.

But social-emotional learning curricula and programs aren’t always adapted to teach students how to apply the social-emotional skills they are learning in school to their digital lives. Educators, experts say, should not assume that students are automatically applying the social-emotional skills they are learning in school to their tech use.

So, as social media, virtual learning, and our ever-present devices are here to stay, what skills do students need to navigate their tech-driven worlds?

Here are five key social-emotional skills students need for the digital age, according to experts who spoke with Education Week:

  • Self-awareness, or the ability to examine their own behaviors and feelings, helps kids recognize how technology might be negatively affecting them. Does social media make them feel bad about themselves? Is too much screen time causing them to miss sleep or forgo spending time with families and friends in-person? Is a piece of emotionally-charged content trying to trick them into sharing something or spreading false information?
  • Social perspective-taking helps students consider how someone they’re interacting with online or through text messages will interpret something differently based on their unique perspective, background, information, or context. Because it’s harder, and often impossible, to read someone else’s body language through screens or text, perspective-taking conditions students to think through how their behavior will be received by someone else even if they can’t see their reaction.
  • Empathy, or being able to pick up on and understand how someone else feels, is key to maintaining healthy relationships online. Empathy is an important skill to help students remember that there is a human being on the other side of the screen—something that’s easy to forget when interactions aren’t taking place face-to-face.
  • Self-regulation helps students control their impulses. Because emotions can easily override good decisionmaking, it can be all too easy to click first and think later, commenting or sharing a video, meme, or article without evaluating the accuracy or the repercussions of their actions—which can range from hurting a friend’s feelings to sharing disinformation about vaccines or the war in Ukraine.
  • Responsible decisionmaking is an important skill for students to evaluate and make careful choices about their behavior and social interactions online. This applies to more immediate situations but also, just as importantly, to thinking through the long-term repercussions of behavior. Students need to be thinking about what they might say on social media today and how it could jeopardize a job or scholarship opportunity in the future.

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